It’s officially official. The 2020 trade deadline has come and gone, and as expected the Chicago Blackhawks have parted ways with defenseman Erik Gustafsson. It wasn’t as expected, but they also said goodbye to goaltender Robin Lehner. Both players were very popular with their teammates and the fanbase. And it certainly doesn’t help that the return for them was rather underwhelming. Let’s dive into these two deadline moves, as well as touch on some highlights from the last three games.
Gustafsson was always a top candidate for the Blackhawks to trade at the deadline. Set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, he will be due a hefty raise; one the Blackhawks can’t prioritize over some other contracts. It makes all the sense in the world for general manager Stan Bowman to get what he can for the blueliner now instead of let him walk for nothing at the end of the season.
The writing was on the wall when he was held out of the lineup last Friday night against the Nashville Predators. Sure enough, head coach Jeremy Colliton announced after practice the next day that Gustafsson would not be traveling with the team on their four-game road trip, all but cementing the fact a trade was imminent.
Shortly before the 2 pm deadline on Monday, it was announced Gustafsson was traded to the Calgary Flames in exchange for the earlier of their two third round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft. This is disappointing, as most pundits had the Blackhawks getting a second round pick for Gustafsson.
Gustafsson put his name on the map with a breakout 2018-19 season, where he recorded a career-high 17 goals and 60 points. He’s best known for being an offensive-minded defenseman, who can also quarterback the power play. Yet he constantly frustrated fans and coaches alike with his defensive lapses on the ice.
But it’s still never easy to say goodbye to a teammate and friend, especially in the middle of a hard-fought campaign. Dylan Strome spoke about Gustafsson after Saturday’s practice.
He’s a great guy, great family guy. Obviously put his time in the AHL and got here. … “He’s funny in the room, he’s loud. For a European guy he’s got great English. I know his wife and his two kids love it here. It’s never easy.
And his one-timer will be sorely missed as well.
Best of luck to Gustafsson, or Gusty, as I liked to all him. Heck, he’ll likely finally get to see some playoff action with the Flames.
Yeah, I guess we all knew it wouldn’t last forever. Either Lehner of Corey Crawford was going to go at some point. But goalies don’t usually get traded at the deadline. So most of us were unprepared for this to happen so soon. But sure enough, Lehner is now a Vegas Golden Knight.
While Crawford has seemingly never been fully appreciated outside of Chicago, he has a pretty loyal following in the Windy City. He’s won two Stanley Cups, for gosh sake! His unassuming and stoic personality has stolen everyone’s hearts, which is why it was such a tragedy when he lost so much time to concussion issues the last two seasons.
The Blackhawks brought Lehner in as an insurance policy of sorts, in case Crawford couldn’t stay healthy for the 2019-20 season. But he has stayed healthy, and he’s thrived to boot. He and Lehner have become a formidable goalie tandem this season, arguably making the Blackhawks look better than they really are.
But back to Lehner. His boisterous and outspoken personality (not to mention his awesome Twitter account) is completely the opposite of Crawford’s. Yet people love him as well. And he’s been completely honest about his struggles with addiction and mental health. So much so that he’s had trouble finding a team willing to completely invest in him. But he finally feels he’s proven he’s an asset to any team, and it’s his turn to get the high-end contract he deserves.
Apparently his terms and asking price were too steep for the Blackhawks. They weren’t willing to make a deal, but instead traded him for a second-round 2020 draft pick, prospect Slava Demin, and goaltender Malcolm Subban. As with the Gustafsson exchange, not too exciting.
Oh, and to add insult to injury. Remember how Lehner was so forthright about not being good in shootouts despite pretty spectacular numbers otherwise? Well look what the Blackhawks’ organization put in their release about newly acquired netminder Subban.
Subban has posted a perfect 5-0 record in shootouts, allowing just one shootout goal (18 saves/19 attempts, .947 save percentage) in his career.
Not cool Blackhawks!
But let’s look at this objectively. There was always a team that was going to pay Lehner more than the Blackhawks. Let’s face it; they have major salary cap issues. It’s been reported Lehner might have been willing to make a deal, but we will never know the details of what either side was asking.
Here’s hoping Lehner can get the contract he deserves with the Golden Knights, or with another team after he rocks it for the rest of the season and into the playoffs!
Blackhawks’ Last 3 Contests
Vs. New York Rangers, Wed. 2/19, Loss 6-3
Vs. Nashville Predators, Fri. 2/21, Win 2-1 (OT)
@ Dallas Stars, Sun. 2/23, Loss 2-1
It was tough to focus on hockey games with all the distractions of the trade deadline. But the show must go on. As you can see from the scores above, the Blackhawks suffered two losses in their last three contests. But except for a monumental breakdown in the third period against the Rangers, they played some pretty good hockey.
Yes, the story remains they can’t seem to put it all together, which is why these last 20 contests won’t have a whole lot of meaning. The Blackhawks are all but out of the playoff picture. As the season winds down, it will be about moral victories and looking towards the future. With that in mind, let’s discuss some highlights from the recent matchups.
Keith Hits Milestones
Duncan Keith has been close to some career milestones for quite some time now, and this past week he finally reached two of them. The 36-year-old blueliner earned career assist No. 500 Wednesday night with the primary helper on Dominik Kubalik’s goal in the second period. On Friday against the Predators, his secondary assist on Alex DeBrincat’s power play goal put him at 600 career points. He also assisted on DeBrincat’s overtime winner, putting his total at 601 points.
There’s still one milestone to go, as Keith is sitting on 99 goals in his esteemed 15-year NHL tenure. He’s pushing for it too. The veteran recorded four shots on goal against the Predators and two against the Stars. With Gustafsson now gone he’s also been promoted back up to the first power play unit, manning the point. That 100th goal should be right around the corner.
Kudos to Kubalik
Left winger Kubalik continues his strong rookie campaign. He notched two goals versus the Rangers, and the lone Blackhawks’ tally against the Stars this past week. He now has 26 goals on the season, which leads all rookies and is seven more than second place Victor Olofsson of the Buffalo Sabres.
Kubalik has especially flourished since being deployed on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Drake Caggiula, tallying 15 goals in the last 20 games. He’s recently also been promoted to the top power play unit, where elite passer Patrick Kane consistently feeds Kubalik so he can rip his rocket of a shot. Expect more goals to come for the rookie, both at even strength and on the man advantage.
Speaking of Kane, Kubalik is now only one goal behind the veteran playmaker. Much like with Kane and DeBrincat in the latter’s rookie campaign, it will be fun to see who comes out on top between Kane and Kuby at the end of this season.
While the Blackhawks sat Gustafsson in preparation for his trade, Lucas Carlsson was called up from the Rockford IceHogs Saturday and made his NHL debut Sunday against the Stars. He drew into the lineup on the second defensive pairing alongside Connor Murphy, and his performance was a very pleasant surprise.
Carlsson looked calm, cool, and collected and seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on. He kept it simple and was patient with the puck. At one point, he deftly kept the puck in the zone by batting it with his hand. At another point he joined the rush and made a nifty spin move in an attempt to get the puck on net.
SPIN MOVE pic.twitter.com/BrVq1n3hnT— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) February 23, 2020
All in all, the 22-year-old was credited with three hits and one blocked shot in a healthy 14:55 minutes of ice time. Colliton spoke highly of his effort after the game. “I thought he was good. He was assertive, physical, made plays, skated the puck. I thought he did well for himself.”
Carlsson replaced the recently acquired Nick Seeler in the lineup. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that was the case more often than not moving forward.
Other Blackhawks’ News & Notes
- With his lovely assist on Kubalik’s power play goal against the Stars, Kane extended his point streak to five games. He’s credited with two goals and six helpers in that span.
- DeBrincat’s had a rough season as he’s struggled to produce. But he broke out with a power play goal and the game-winner in overtime against the Predators Friday night, marking his first multi-goal game of the season. Hopefully this will give the Cat some confidence moving forward.
- Forward Zack Smith has been out of the lineup since Feb. 12 when his left hand was cut by a skate blade. It was later reported he would be sidelined 7-10 days. He’s since started practicing with the team, and Sunday marked his 10th day out. Look for Smith’s return in the coming days.
- By default Crawford is now the Blackhawks’ No. 1 goaltender. But he’s peaking at the right time. In the month of February he’s averaged a solid .934 save percentage and a 2.29 goals against average.
The Blackhawks head into the final stretch of their season without two beloved teammates and contributors to their success. But such is life this time of year. Their four-game road trip continues Tuesday in St. Louis before they head to sunny Florida to meet the Lightning and Joel Quenneville’s Panthers. March features mostly home games, and the season winds down with two matchups in New York. Let’s hope the Blackhawks can salvage some pride and finish things off on a high note.
Either way, we at the Hockey Writers will be here to walk you through it, for better or for worse.